The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church USA yesterday issued a pastoral letter expressing their continued desire to remain in the Anglican Communion, but declining to comply with the requests set forth in the Communiqué of February 19, 2007 from the Primates of the Anglican Communion meeting at Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The money quote from that document is as follows:
the Primates request, through the Presiding Bishop, that the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church
1. make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorise any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention (cf TWR, §143, 144); and
2. confirm that the passing of Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention means that a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent (cf TWR, §134);
unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion (cf TWR, §134).
If the US bishops did not comply by September 30, the Communiqué strongly suggested that the ECUSA would be ousted from the worldwide Anglican Communion. Yesterday’s letter brings us that much closer to that divorce.
Depending on your beliefs about Christianity and homosexuality, this is either a “profiles in courage” story or a sad tale of heresy. Either way, the US bishops’ explanation of their decision is nuanced and heartfelt, and may overturn some stereotypes about this debate:
That last paragraph offers an interesting retort to those who would write off the US bishops’ position as irresponsible American individualism or an anti-family agenda. It’s times like this when I’m almost proud to be an Episcopalian again. Now if they’d only go to the mat like this for the Trinity, I could go back to my church. Evangelicals just don’t understand coffee hour.
With great hope that we will continue to be welcome in the councils of the family of Churches we know as the Anglican Communion, we believe that to participate in the Primates’ Pastoral scheme would be injurious to The Episcopal Church for many reasons.
First, it violates our church law in that it would call for a delegation of primatial authority not permissible under our Canons and a compromise of our autonomy as a Church not permissible under our Constitution.
Second, it fundamentally changes the character of the Windsor process and the covenant design process in which we thought all the Anglican Churches were participating together.
Third, it violates our founding principles as The Episcopal Church following our own liberation from colonialism and the beginning of a life independent of the Church of England.
Fourth, it is a very serious departure from our English Reformation heritage. It abandons the generous orthodoxy of our Prayer Book tradition. It sacrifices the emancipation of the laity for the exclusive leadership of high-ranking Bishops. And, for the first time since our separation from the papacy in the 16th century, it replaces the local governance of the Church by its own people with the decisions of a distant and unaccountable group of prelates.
Most important of all it is spiritually unsound. The pastoral scheme encourages one of the worst tendencies of our Western culture, which is to break relationships when we find them difficult instead of doing the hard work necessary to repair them and be instruments of reconciliation. The real cultural phenomenon that threatens the spiritual life of our people, including marriage and family life, is the ease with which we choose to break our relationships and the vows that established them rather than seek the transformative power of the Gospel in them. We cannot accept what would be injurious to this Church and could well lead to its permanent division.